With Bob Costas, Matt Lauer, Michael Phelps…
If teacher Amy Bass were to answer the traditional back-to-school essay sparker, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” she’d have one helluva story to tell.
That’s because Bass – professor of history and director of the SAS Honors Program at The College of New Rochelle – is also supervisor of NBC’s Olympic research room. In the second week of July, she’ll be heading to London to assemble the room at The International Broadcast Center in Olympic Park and create assignments and shifts for a staff of about 30. NBC also has four to five full-time Olympic researchers.
“It’s a crazy assemblage of people, many of whom have been together a long time,” she says, “including experts in geopolitics, sports and just generally brainy people….We assemble all of the information necessary and get it to the talent.”
The information is compiled in 10 to 11 volumes on discs and memory cards. (It used to be in actual binders.)
“It’s everything on everything,” Bass says of her 18-hour-a-day summer job.
Part of the challenge: Some of the sports, like swimming and track and field, don’t hold their Olympic trials until a month before the Olympics begins (July 27).
“You know Michael Phelps is going, but you don’t know what events he’ll be swimming.”
Even when you’ve got the events and the athlete biographies down cold, all the upsets and other variables that make sports so memorable come into play.
“In the 1996 Games in Atlanta (her first as a researcher), did the experts predict that Nigeria would defeat Brazil in soccer?” she asks.
Then there’s the weather.
At the Vancouver Winter Games two years ago, the Alpine events were plagued by warm weather that turned the mountains to slush and rendered visibility nil. Bass had to designate a local reporter as the weather guy.
“It’s critical,” she says. “We were literally asked to predict the weather.”
Vancouver began under a cloud, with the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run.
Bass and her team, whose eyes are always on the live feed, watched in horror as this unfolded. But they had to set grief aside to get every detail of the story right, from the pronunciation of Kumaritashvili’s name to opening ceremony protocol in the face of tragedy.
“The Internet helps and hurts,” she says. “Our job is still a lot of phone calls and knowing who to call.”
With 26 sports, 29 disciplines and more than 300 events to cover, there’s not a lot of time to hang with athletes or sightsee. But she does get to meet some Olympic stars, like Evan Lysacek, who won the gold in men’s figure skating in Vancouver. And broadcasters like Matt Lauer and Bob Costas drops by.
“They’re quick studies,” she says. “Most of them have been doing it a long time. Bob Costas has a team of writers.”
With three books to her credit – two on sports and race and a third on scholar/activist W.E.B. Du Bois – Bass is no slouch herself. A child of the Berkshires, Bass was just finishing her Stony Brook University Ph.D. dissertation proposal on the 1968 Games when she got a call from a producer to help research the Atlanta Olympics. Her older brother, a producer at NBC, started out as a researcher at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles when they were broadcast by ABC.
In Atlanta, Bass was in charge of compiling the archery manual. She predicted not only a team gold for the American men, but an individual one for Justin Huish. Right on both counts, Bass was able to savor the triumph with complete information on Huish.
“It’s nice when the stars align,” she says.
And when romance is in the air, well, it’s kismet. Bass met her husband, Evan Klupt, who works for NBC News, at the 2000 Games in Sydney. Daughter Hannah, 5, toddled through the Vancouver Games and will be joining mom and dad in London, already an Olympic veteran.
Once the Olympic flame is extinguished, Bass will have little time to rest on her laurels. This fall, she’ll once again be teaching a seminar on “Race, Sport and Society.” Her Olympic experiences have enriched her own research, writing and teaching.
“I’m incredibly grateful to NBC,” she says.
And sure to be exhausted.
“It’s a good thing that there’s a lag time between Olympics,” she says, “because on the last day I always say, ‘Never again.’”